Where does a girl go when she’s caught in a scandal? If you’re Paris Hilton, lying low is for little people. On Nov. 14, days before releasing a statement proclaiming herself “humiliated” by a homemade sex tape featuring herself and ex-boyfriend Rick Salomon—a dark, grainy amateur video that’s running wild across the Internet—Hilton, 22, headed not into hiding but to luncheon at the Ivy, the eatery of choice for Hollywood’s elite.
But as she dined at a sidewalk table, the hotel heiress was visibly distraught as paparazzi flashbulbs popped. Friends say Hilton—who with kid sister Nicky, 20, has danced and dated her way from the social register and into the gossip columns—is upset by all the bad press. Nicky Hilton says the crisis has made Paris more spiritual: “She’s taking Kabbalah classes.” A family confidant adds that Paris is so ashamed “she’s wearing a black wig when she goes out.”
If only Hilton had thought of that when she was dating Salomon. In May 2001 Paris and the 34-year-old Internet entrepreneur—whose former wife is actress Shannen Doherty—videotaped themselves having sex. Last summer, the 27-minute tape fell into the hands of a Seattle-based porn distributor, and four minutes of it have been viewed on computers around the globe. (Besides causing untold hours of lost productivity, it has also generated speculation that there are more Hilton sex tapes.) How did it go public? Salomon said Hilton’s parents, Rick, a real estate broker, and Kathy, a socialite, pointed the finger at him. Hilton’s publicist Siri Garber has even implied that Salomon drugged Paris. Salomon said that an acquaintance stole the video and sold it for $50,000 and has lodged a $10 million slander suit against the Hiltons and Garber, insisting that Paris was “an active participant.” He is also suing Marvad, the porn distributor, for invasion of privacy.
No stranger to scandal, Hilton was raised in Beverly Hills and Manhattan and began hitting the club scene by her early teens. At 17, she spent time at a Utah boarding school for troubled youth. Her bunkmate Karlea Clements recalls Hilton as “really, really sweet” but “very spoiled.” Some relatives agreed. “What is [Kathy] doing, letting a 16-year-old go nightclubbing?” asked her great aunt Francesca in 2001. Now Paris’s pal Brian Long, a publicist, says her parents “are telling her to keep her chin up.” If history is any judge (just ask Rob Lowe and Pamela Anderson), she should make a full recovery. Hilton—who stars in FOX’s reality show The Simple Life, which premieres Dec. 2—has always enjoyed attention. Now she has the kind of publicity that even her family’s billions can’t buy.
Kwala Mandel and Brenda Rodriguez in Los Angeles, Rebecca Paley in New York City and Kevin Airs in Sydney